I will forever have a soft spot in my heart for Montreal. While visiting this past summer, it reminded me of just that. In addition to living there from 2001-2009, my parents were born there and my grandparents lived there for years so it will always be “home” in some sort of way. So I’m always excited to spend time in Montreal and was looking forward to making a decision on a hotel and venue for the 2015 Food Bloggers of Canada conference.
Being familiar with the city, there are some places I just absolutely have to visit, but it’s always good to throw something new into the mix. This trip was definitely a perfect mix of the two with my FBC partner Melissa. Since the goal was to choose the venue for the 2015 conference, it involved a lot of meetings and walk-throughs of hotels. We ultimately selected Le Westin as the destination for next year and while we saw a lot of terrific hotels (eight of them!) around the city, the Westin stood out from the rest. It also happens to be the former home of the Montreal Gazette newspaper, so it’s a 5 year old hotel in a 60+ year old building!
Of course, part of the “research” is having to eat. It definitely falls under the “tough job but someone’s gotta do it” category. There were some great meals at all of the hotels but I was particularly taken with the food at Le Westin. We started with an amazing presentation of a trio of tartare, tuna, salmon and shrimp.
You’ll see below that I didn’t starve when I was in Montreal, so I opted for something a little “lighter” for lunch. My seared tuna salad with avocado and hearts of palm was exactly what I craving.
With the big decision of the trip still weighing on us, it was time to do some exploring, and by exploring, I mean eating. Some things are necessities and smoked meat and bagels are very important! I’m not much for lines and while the line-up outside Schwartz’s is worthwhile, it’s also avoidable by going early.
Smoked meat at 10:30am, yes please! We met up with Janice from the blog Kitchen Heals Soul on a weekday morning and made our way up Saint-Laurent Boulevard. Every time I walk in, I can still recall the first time I went with my father. The smell and decor brings me back over 25 years ago. I have visions of seated elbow-to-elbow on those narrow picnic table style tables where you can’t help but say “hi” to the person beside you, because you’re literally on top of each other! If you’ve been, you know what I’m talking about and if you haven’t been, it’s not something you can imagine in today’s restaurant scene but there’s nothing quite like it.
So for me, it’s still actually quite a shock to be able to just walk in without having to wait, but that’s exactly what we did. We didn’t waste much time since we knew what we had come for, a smoked meat (medium) sandwich, a giant 1/2 sour pickle and a can of Cott’s Black Cherry cola. There are meals in life that just make you happy and this is one of them.
Speaking of classics, we had to stop for Montreal bagels. I know there is a great debate that rages between bagel fans as to whether St-Viateur Bagels and Fairmount Bagels has the better bagel. For me, it’s comparing two of the very best in the world so you can’t go wrong but my allegiances lie with St-Viateur. I think it has to do with what you were accustomed to growing up and we’d always stop at St-Viateur growing up. I’ve also always loved how it’s so much more open concept where you can see all the magic happening before your very eyes.
I don’t care how old you are, there is nothing like watching that mound of dough getting expertly cut and ready to be methodically rolled into those perfect rounds. It all happens so quickly and in stages. They then get placed in a bath of sweet water before getting their dip in the iconic sesame seeds before getting placed on the long board moments before they hit the heat. They slide into the oven where they magically turn into the bagel we all know and love. The last step is always the most fun to watch, the confident toss of the bagels off the board and into into the “staging” area where they won’t last too long. There is nothing like biting into that that warm bagel straight from the bin. None of this raisin or cinnamon bagel business, just a classic sesame seed bagel that is soft, chewy with the perfect hint of sweetness.
To wrap up our adventures in eating, we went somewhere I had never been on the recommendation of Aimee from Simple Bites, who joined myself, Melissa and Janice. The destination was Restaurant Gus and it was a fantastic choice! Located just adjacent to the Little Italy part of Montreal, Chef Ferguson has had Restaurant Gus for about two years now after working all over Montreal, including Au Pied du Cochon. It’s a 30 seat restaurant with an open kitchen and the daily menu written on the chalkboard.
Everything looked so good and we couldn’t decide so we opted to share everything. The grilled octopus and chorizo with roasted shallots and cumin cream was an edible work of arts but the pièce de résistance was the foie gras nachos. It was brilliant, totally decadent and left us pretty disappointed when it was all gone which is usually a pretty indication of how good it was.
After a successful trip to Ottawa and Montreal, it was time to head back west to Vancouver and among other things, get back to the seawall for some much-needed morning/evening runs!